Anthropologist launches ambitious archaeological expedition in Iraqi Kurdistan


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Dr. Matney (center) participates in the formal ceremony marking the official start of the archaeological project. Also pictured: Nader Babakr, the director of the Erbil Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage (left), and Kaifi Mustafa Ali, the director general of Antiquities and Heritage for the Kurdish Regional Government (right).

Dr. Timothy Matney, a professor in the Department of Anthropology in the Buchtel College of Arts & Sciences at The University of Akron (UA), has embarked on an exciting new archaeological journey. On Aug. 20, 2023,  Matney signed a five-year agreement with the general directorate of Antiquities and Heritage in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, to lead an international team of U.S., Canadian, British, German and Iraqi archaeologists in exploring the agrarian economy of the Assyrian Empire (c. 900-600 B.C.).

The project, aptly named the Sebittu Project, seeks to shed light on the ancient agricultural backbone of the Assyrian Empire by excavating seven small farming villages in the vicinity of Erbil. These villages, once vital to the empire's economy, have remained underexplored from an archaeological perspective. Their excavations run until mid-September, with plans for two-month-long field seasons annually through 2027.

The Sebittu Project is supported by grants from UA's Faculty Research Committee, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq.

A Unique Approach

"The Sebittu Project has an unusual research design because, unlike traditional excavations centered on a single large city from the Iron Age, our project seeks to understand ancient life from the perspective of farmers living in seven much smaller places scattered across the Assyrian landscape almost 3,000 years ago," said Matney. "This bottom-up approach complements and fills gaps in our understanding of ancient economies, offering a unique perspective on Iron Age Assyria."

Matney, known for his extensive experience in archaeology, has previously led long-term projects in Turkey, demonstrating a commitment to involving undergraduate and graduate students in his work. While there are currently no immediate plans for UA students to participate in the Sebittu Project due to travel and safety considerations in the Iraqi Kurdistan area, Matney expressed his desire to involve students in the future.

Rising Job Growth in Archaeology

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Excavations at Kharaba Tawus. Photo courtesy of Jason Ur/EPAS.

The Department of Anthropology offers a wide range of courses that provide students with opportunities for hands-on learning and research. Dr. Rebecca Erickson, professor and chair of the department, highlighted the importance of Matney's work in providing cutting-edge experiences for anthropology and archaeology students.

"Dr. Matney's Sebittu Project ensures that our anthropology and archaeology students are learning from faculty members using state-of-the-art data collection and analytic techniques as they complete their degrees," remarked Erickson. "His strong network of research connections worldwide parallels his and other anthropology faculty's local research connections, including a unique archaeological partnership with Summit MetroParks."

Students don't need to travel abroad to gain archaeological skills. The Department of Anthropology offers a Certificate in Field Archaeology, providing real-world skills and research opportunities, including the only active summer field school program in Northeast Ohio. This program is designed for students interested in pursuing graduate school or a career in cultural resource management (CRM or "contract archaeology"), a job field experiencing significant growth in the United States due to policies requiring the protection of significant cultural resources when construction projects are under way. It is estimated that CRM accounts for 90%  of archaeological projects taking place in the United States.

Whether excavating small farming villages in an imperial center in the Middle East or Native American sites right here in Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley, UA’s anthropology students are getting the field training they need to enter the CRM workforce or pursue research in graduate studies.


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